Emergency Management & Public Administration

Document Type


Publication Date



This study examined 110 local residents’ warning sources, warning channels, warning receipt times, message content, risk perception, and behavioral responses (warning confirmation, and consumption of untreated tap water, boiled water, bottled water, and personally chlorinated water) during the May 1-4 2010 Boston water contamination incident. Most residents received warnings from peers and news media and these warnings mentioned 2.35 of five recommended elements of a warning message—most commonly the threat and the recommended protective action. TV was the most frequent channel for additional information, partly because it was the most frequent channel of routine information, but the Internet was also a common channel for additional information. Consumption of untreated tap water declined, consumption of personally chlorinated water remained negligible, and consumption of boiled water and bottled water increased during the incident. Warning receipt from an authority increased consumption of boiled water, whereas receipt of a less specific warning tended to increase consumption of bottled water. The distribution of warning times followed a logistic (S-shaped) distribution, with the largest increase taking place during prime TV news time (4-6pm). These results call attention to the need to increase the number of comprehensive warning response studies on rapid onset disasters to provide the basis for developing a comprehensive theory that can explain similarities and differences in responses to the full range of environmental hazards.

Publication/Presentation Information

International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters, 35 (1), 2017, 84-114.


To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.